The use of protected lifts to empty tall buildings could cut evacuation times by up to 40%
The government is planning to rewrite the rules on the use of lifts to evacuate people from tall buildings in the event of a fire or terrorist attack.

The move comes after a review of possible changes to fire regulations after the collapse of the World Trade Centre towers in 2001.

A senior source at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister confirmed that the government was "reviewing the use of lifts to evacuate people from tall buildings" under proposed revisions to Part B of the Building Regulations for England and Wales.

The rules presently require occupants to use stairs to leave a tall building in an emergency. Engineers believe that allowing lifts to be used would reduce the time taken to empty a building. Peter Bressington, director of Arup Fire, has predicted that by using both methods "40% can be knocked off a building's evacuation time".

The use of lifts in evacuation strategies was proposed by the International Working Group on Safety in Tall Buildings, which was convened by the Institution of Structural Engineers to investigate into the collapse of the World Trade Centre.

The DETR and its successor, the ODPM, were both represented on the working group.

If the proposal does become part of the Building Regulations, a new type of fireproof and smoke-proof lift would need to be developed.

The lift would need a protected, infallible power supply, and the lift shaft would need to be constructed to withstand a fire or explosion. Controls would have to prevent the lifts stopping on a fire floor.

The review also includes changes to the fire protection in tall buildings' structures after concerns over the effectiveness of the twin towers' fire insulation.

The ODPM source confirmed that the government was reviewing the fire protection used in tall buildings.

Until now, the response to the World Trade Centre attacks has been to install additional escape stairs, as at Barclays headquarters under construction at Canary Wharf. The changes would seek to increase the robustness of insulation to ensure it remains firmly in place.